Burnley Council leader column | Burnley has to have a say in devolution debate

The recent announcement regarding potential devolution for Lancashire has evoked a mix of emotions among district leaders.
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While the prospect of devolution offers an opportunity for Lancashire to shape its own future, the lack of prior consultation and discussion with district leaders has left many of us feeling excluded and disconnected from vital negotiations.

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The collaborative efforts put into the Lancashire 2050 strategy fostered a strong bond among leaders, providing a solid foundation for future progress. Thus, the absence of districts in the decision-making process risks undermining the significant work accomplished over the past two years.

Burnley Council leader Afrasiab AnwarBurnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar
Burnley Council leader Afrasiab Anwar
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For the Lancashire devolution deal to truly succeed, it must prioritise the active participation and influential voice of its districts. Lancashire is a diverse region, with each district having unique characteristics, strengths, and challenges. Involving districts in the devolution process will harness the wealth of local expertise and contextual knowledge they possess. Local authorities are best suited to understand the distinct needs and priorities of their communities, ensuring that policies and decisions align with the aspirations and realities of the people they serve.

The economic, social, and environmental factors of Lancashire's districts vary significantly. By involving districts in the devolution deal, tailored solutions can be designed to address specific challenges faced by each area. Recognising that one size does not fit all, a collaborative approach will prevent neglecting the unique needs of different communities.

While there might be differences among leaders, the shared objective of securing the best devolution deal for Lancashire remains. It is essential to set aside disappointment and focus on rebuilding trust and positive working relationships among Lancashire's leaders. Acknowledging the concerns caused by the recent announcement is the first step in this process.

During the last meeting, district leaders sought a commitment from upper-tier authorities to give districts a voice and revert to the principle of "one member, one vote," which district councils had agreed upon. In addition to this it is vital that there is district representation in any governance structure. In the upcoming weeks, Lancashire leaders will meet again to discuss and agree on a way forward. As district leaders we have made our position clear, it is now up to the upper tier authorities to show they have listened.

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Meanwhile, it is encouraging to learn that the House of Lords has made an Amendment to the Levelling Up Bill, which would grant districts voting rights in Combined County authorities. Hopefully, both our county colleagues and Lancashire MPs will support this amendment. With open communication and cooperation, Lancashire can navigate its devolution journey successfully and ensure a brighter future for all its communities.

The importance of the districts cannot be overstated. The onus is now on Lancashire County Council, Blackburn with Darwen, and Blackpool councils. They have the ability to either involve the districts or completely ignore.

Personally, I cannot endorse a system where politicians from Blackburn, Blackpool, and County Hall make decisions about Burnley's best interests without giving Burnley a say in the matter.